Trying to maintain a healthy diet is one of the most vexing issues we face in modern life. Highly processed, unhealthy foods are not only widely available, but are often the only option presented in schools, offices, hospitals, gas stations, and, well, just about everywhere other than the grocery store. Adding to which, most people are seriously pressed for time, and it’s hard to find the bandwidth needed to research what to eat instead of all those ubiquitous, often yummy, but equally often unhealthy foods.

Knowing how big of a challenge this can be, what’s a gal to do? Well, don’t worry: We have your back! We dug deep into the available research and spoke to some experts to figure out some hacks and substitutions that will help you navigate the confusing world of modern food. Hopefully, these will help make healthy options a bit more manageable, accessible, and doable!

Use these oil substitutes when baking
Baked goods are the holy grail for almost everyone, but particularly for people who are trying to watch their calorie intake. Instead of eliminating baked goods altogether — which would be sad, and really, no one needs that — you can make key substitutions that help turn a baked treat into something actually good for you.

The Mayo Clinic recommends using half of the butter or oil in a recipe, and replacing the other half with applesauce or prune, pear, or banana puree. This not only helps cut down on fat, it also adds fiber and other beneficial nutrients found in fruit. As Better Homes and Gardens notes, cup-for-cup, substituting pear puree adds nine grams of fiber (compared to zero in oil) and will decrease the calorie and fat count of whatever you’re baking.

Charlotte Furman, Registered Dietician and Clinical Director of the University of Washington Medical Center’s Department of Food and Nutrition, noted in an interview for the school’s holistic wellness newsletter that when replacing fats with fruit puree, “a good rule of thumb is to replace half the fat.” Fat has important roles in the baking process, and if you replace all the fat in a recipe, the end product will change substantially. However, because pureed fruits contain pectin (a fiber found in fruit that acts as a stabilizer and tenderizer), they can easily replace 50% of the oil.

Use these flour substitutes for more baking hacks
As the Mayo Clinic further notes, you can also find ways to substitute half of the flour in most recipes. For example, if a recipe requires two cups of all-purpose flour, by replacing one of those cups with whole wheat flour, you can add more good-for-you fiber to the mix. However, if wheat and gluten aren’t your jam, there are plenty of gluten-free flours that can be substituted as well.

According to Jamie Logie, a nutritionist, health coach, and personal trainer, almond and coconut flours are great bets in place of wheat flour. Wheat flours are considered to have a higher glycemic index, he told The List, and can cause blood sugar to quickly rise and fall. By sticking with almond and coconut flour, you not only get a good dose of protein, but you avoid the dreaded blood sugar peaks and valleys.

Sai Aparajitha Khanna, a health and wellness coach in the United Kingdom, explained that she recommends using cacao powder in place of flour. Naturally gluten-free, “[n]ot only does it lower the carb content of the dishes, high-quality cacao also makes dishes so much more chocolatey,” she told The List. It also packs an impressive nutritional punch. With 4000 times as much magnesium as wheat flour, cacao powder also contains more iron and calcium than its glutinous counterpart. More nutrients and more chocolate flavor? Sign. Us. Up.

Bring out the flavor of your dishes without excess salt
As we all know, salt is the standard go-to ingredient when it’s time to jazz up a dish — but as Web MD notes, too much sodium can contribute to health conditions like high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular and kidney diseases. The same goes for sugar, since all know that added sugars aren’t a great idea — and according to the Harvard School of Public Health, they contribute to health conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

How can you add flavor to a dish without pouring on the salt or the sugar? This is where your friendly local spice rack can save the day: Adding, or even doubling, the spices in any dish can help kick it up a notch. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, extra cinnamon in a recipe helps enhance the sweetness on your tongue, which makes it possible to reduce the amount of sugar you use.

In fact, National Institutes of Health offers this handy sheet, and the Cleveland Clinic has this list, to help you determine which spices to use in place of salt and sugar. Which spices are best will depend on the dish — sweet or savory, light or hardy, veggies or meat — but rest assured: Just like there’s a lid for every pot, there’s a spice for every food.

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